There are several disturbing things found in a recent email thread that Newsweek published, in which top staffers debated the definition of a terrorist. Specifically, the question they tried to hash out among themselves was whether last week's Austin suicide pilot, Joseph Stack, was a terrorist the same way the Christmas Day bomber was. And why the latter was treated as a much, much bigger deal.
The general (and yes, disturbing) newsroom consensus seemed to be that Stark, a white American, wasn't really quite a terrorist, even though he flew his plane into a federal building in an apparent attempt to kill as many people as possible, and he did it to make an anti-IRS political statement.
Hmm, if a Middle Eastern immigrant with a similar unhinged, anti-government beef had taken the same lethal steps, would Newsweek be so reluctant to label that an act of terror? I'm doubtful. (Glenn Greenwald has a thorough dissection of that point, here.)
But was really struck me as astonishing was that not one person on the Newsweek staff mentioned, or even seemed to be aware of the fact, that the reason the Christmas bomber became a big news deal and Austin's Stack did not is because the GOP Noise Machine made the Christmas Day bomber a big deal (and the press eagerly followed), and the GOP Noise Machine had every incentive to play down the anti-government suicide bombing in Austin (and the press eagerly followed.).
In other words, Newsweek editors and reporters engaged in a debate about public perception and news coverage, yet remain oblivious to the forces that actually drive the coverage of this issue, and so many Beltway issues: the GOP Nose Machine.
Because, let's face it, when it says jump, the media say how high?
The drill has become so routine (GOP outrage = news), I don't think reporters and editors even recognize it anymore, which is why Newsweek staffers scratch their head and wonder why a political news story the GOP loved got big news coverage (i.e. foreign terrorist), vs. a political news story the GOP hated, which did not (domestic terrorist).
UPDATED: The closest any Newsweek staffer came to addressing this issue was editor Devin Gordon [emphasis added]:
One thing that could've stretched out this Austin Wacko story out quite a bit longer is if the mainstream media had been bolder about connecting it to the larger anti-tax political phenomenon in this country today: the Tea Party. But most of us weren't willing to go there. Why? Because we are perceived as being dismissive and condescending toward the movement — OK, we *are* dismissive and condescending toward the movement. In short, we tend to treat them like wackos and we are gun-shy about going the full Monty and suggesting they are this close to being *violent* wackos. The FBI is skittish about that blurry line, and so is the media. Better to leave it alone and move onto Tiger Woods.
Interesting. The mainstream media could have connected Austin's anti-government suicide bomber with the anti-government Tea Party movement. But the Tea Party wouldn't have liked that, so journalists didn't do it. They “weren't willing to go there.”
Behold your liberal media.